When Director Víctor Salinas came to the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO) in March 2017, the office had long-outgrown its initial ways of serving the community, and a rebranding effort was in order to better represent the organization's growing commitment to diversity in East Portland. A year later, the office has officially rebranded as the East Portland Community Office (EPCO), reflecting the organization's commitment to supporting and engaging with the diverse communities in East Portland that organize based on geographic connectedness, as well as their identity, through our programs.
Enter Kolini Fusituá, an organizer with the Tongan American Resource Committee. He came to EPCO to apply for the Community Activities Fund, hoping to use the money for a Women’s Sewing Club focused on Tongan cultural preservation.
Other community members came in looking for support with their multi-cultural activism. Others still were looking for a space to convene and engage based on their identities as immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, and more.
This identity-shift as a central cultural gathering place is a giant leap from EPCO’s original purpose when the neighborhoods program was created over 40 years ago. Initially, it was created to support public involvement through neighborhood associations. Now, that mission has grown.
Fusituá went on to secure the funds he applied for and, as a result, the Tongan community has been hosting a weekly quilt sewing gathering, also known as Koka’anga, where they come together not just to sew, but also to share resources and solve community concerns.
“The best thing that came out of this is the realization that there is an organization in Portland willing to support a community like ours,” Fusituá says. “We used to feel isolated. Now we feel welcomed and a valued part of East Portland.”
Inspired by their sewing gathering, Fusituá and his community also started a Tonga Day Festival in Portland, a day of cultural dances, singing, and spiritual thanksgiving honoring their indigenous Tongan legacy.
In a part of town where a quarter of the population identifies as an immigrant, East Portland Community Office’s value can’t be understated. It provides resources to support over 200 community-led projects annually, providing specific resources to that large immigrant population.
“Recognizing that our work has expanded over the last four years to better support all East Portlanders is important,” Salinas explains, “because it means we are actively eliminating barriers to engagement.”